• IHC sets aside July 2018 conviction
• PML-N vice president accuses Imran of leaking audio clips, says he and ‘his coaches will be finished’ soon
• Shehbaz terms niece’s acquittal ‘a slap in the face of accountability’ aimed at their family
• Fawad, Shireen ask judges to tell nation who really owns London properties
ISLAMABAD: In a massive legal victory for the PML-N, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday acquitted party leaders Maryam Nawaz and her spouse retired Capt Safdar of the charges levelled in the Avenfield apartments reference, setting aside an accountability court’s July 2018 verdict.
The acquittal now paves the way for Ms Sharif to contest any upcoming election.
On July 6, 2018, Maryam was convicted in the Avenfield properties reference and handed a seven-year prison term for abetment in the alleged “concealment of the properties of her father”. She was subsequently disqualified from contesting elections for a decade.
In the same reference, former premier Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in jail for owning assets beyond his known means of income and another year for not cooperating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), while his son-in-law Safdar was sentenced to a year in prison for not cooperating with NAB, aiding and abetting both Nawaz and Maryam.
On Thursday, an IHC division bench consisting of Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani issued short orders on the couple’s appeals, acquitting them both of charges in the reference. “For the reasons to be recorded later, the instant appeal is allowed and the judgement dated July 6, 2018 is set aside to the extent of appellant, namely Maryam Nawaz.”
After the judgement, the PML-N vice president spoke to the media outside the court. She had just started speaking when she received calls from her father Nawaz and uncle Shehbaz Sharif, both of whom felicitated her on the victory.
Ms Nawaz accused former premier Imran Khan of leaking the audio clips of conversations in the Prime Minister Office. Commenting on the clip wherein she purportedly asked PM Shehbaz to discontinue PTI’s Sehat Card initiative, she insisted the health project was launched by the PML-N supreme leader.
“I worked hard on the health programme and it was launched by Nawaz Sharif. I asked the PM to own the programme launched by his party and never asked him to discontinue it,” she claimed.
Responding to a question about another leaked audio clip, she said the power plant machinery for her son-in-law’s business was imported during the PTI government and that Mr Khan should be ashamed of it. She said she was proud that PM Shehbaz could be heard in the recording, refusing to import the machinery from India due to a ban on imports from the country.
When asked whether she believed the “establishment” was responsible for her conviction in the Avenfield case, Maryam instantly questioned: “Who was the beneficiary? Imran knew he would not be able to come to power if Nawaz remained in the battleground.” The PTI chief and his “coaches” would be “finished” in the near future, she remarked.
She further alleged Imran Khan had been imposed on the country under a conspiracy hatched to oust her father, adding that Mr Khan had hatched another conspiracy to sabotage the deal with the International Monetary Fund, divide the armed forces and had even tried to make the election commission controversial.
The PML-N leader demanded constitution of a high-powered committee to probe into the alleged conspiracies hatched by Mr Khan, and also called for his arrest at the earliest.
‘Prove Nawaz’s ownership of properties’
During Thursday’s hearing, the IHC bench observed that the NAB prosecution failed to produce any evidence to substantiate that the London properties were owned by former PM Nawaz and Maryam abetted in acquiring, owning and concealing these properties.
“In order to prove the case against Maryam Nawaz, the prosecution has to establish Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the properties,” observed Justice Farooq.
Even if the properties were being managed by offshore companies Nielsen and Nescoll, the prosecution was under an obligation to prove that these companies were owned by Mr Sharif, the court observed.
Justice Kayani asked NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Khan Abbasi to produce any document to substantiate Mr Sharif’s ownership of the properties.
Mr Abbasi then started reading the statement of the head of the joint investigation team (JIT) on Panama Papers, Wajid Zia and argued the JIT had concluded that Nawaz had failed to substantiate the money trail of the London properties and could not prove that the Avenfield apartments were purchased with the disposed of shares of Gulf Steel Mills that his father, Mian Sharif, established in Dubai in the 1970s.
Justice Kayani wondered how the prosecution could rely upon the “opinion” of Mr Zia. “I have never seen such an investigation in which the opinion of an investigation officer was treated at par with the evidence,” he remarked.
Justice Farooq inquired how NAB determined the value of the properties. Abbasi said the flats were valued at $0.5 million, which was mentioned in the JIT report.
At this, Ms Nawaz’s counsel, Amjad Pervaiz, intervened and told the court that Zia quoted the property price from a source report of former interior minister Rehman Malik. “The JIT did not even rely on this report,” he added.
Mr Pervaiz told the court that the investigation agency did not record the statement of Messrs Dibb Lupton Broomhead, the caretakers of Avenfield apartments.
Abbasi said Nawaz had denied the ownership of the London properties, but since he could not provide a money trail, the burden of proof fell on him.
Reacting to Maryam’s acquittal in the Avenfield reference, her father Nawaz Sharif expressed gratitude, saying that truth had finally triumphed.
PM Shehbaz also congratulated both Maryam and Capt Safdar. “The edifice of lies, slander & character assassination has come crumbling down today. Maryam Nawaz’s acquittal in the Avenfield Reference is a slap in the face of so-called accountability system that was employed to target Sharif family,” he tweeted.
Speaking to reporters outside Nawaz’s office in London, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif criticised the “game the judiciary played under Saqib Nisar”, adding, “The era of injustice whose foundation was laid by Saqib Nisar will end. Nawaz Sharif will return.”
Meanwhile, opposition PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry called it another dark day in Pakistan’s history and claimed institutions had lost public trust. He further asked the judges to tell the nation who owned the billion-rupee apartments where the Sharif family had been residing for decades. “Maryam’s crime is the billion-rupee Avenfiled palaces. Her role is beyond any doubt.”
Former PTI minister Dr Shireen Mazari had similar questions, and called the judgement “most unfortunate”. “Is this handlers move to whitewash all corrupt politicians they brought to power? Imported govt got NRO2; Dar whitewashed; now Maryam; next NS?” she tweeted.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2022